There is nothing more frustrating than opening up to someone about a struggle and instantly hearing about how they think they’ve had it worse. The way you might experience pain is completely irrelevant to how the next person experiences their own. How can we even compare our traumas when none of us have lived each other’s lives? So many intricate details go into our inner person. We become who we are when we are shaped by our triumphs and downfalls, completely unique to anyone else’s life experience. There is no comparison to what we have been through because we are the only one who knows what it felt like to go through it as ourselves.
When people downplay your pain, it says more about their own recovery than it does yours. If they lack empathy, it’s likely they have not experienced things in a way that let them learn it. To think that someone else is not allowed to feel pain simply because others in the world might have it “worse” is an unfair and cold viewpoint to manifest.
Recently, I heard a story about a woman who was at risk of losing her children because her postpartum depression has taken over her life and made daily tasks feel unbearable. Another woman made the claim, “Well, I have depression too and I still manage to get out of bed every morning. She’s just taking it way over the top.” Imagine that. A woman who has not experienced childbirth and has not been clinically diagnosed with depression somehow knows without a doubt that the first woman is just being “dramatic” in her struggles.
You see, these two women are completely different. Both have gone through their own pain that molded their view of others and themselves. In what way, could these two people ever understand each other’s struggles enough to judge one another? They have lived completely different lives so far. The scales will always seem uneven because they simply cannot understand what it is like to be in the other woman’s shoes.
Consider this example. Two people who cannot swim are dropped into a swimming pool. The person in 6 ft of water cannot touch the bottom of the pool and starts to drown. The other person who is in 10 ft of water cannot touch the ground either, and they also start to drown. How helpful is it for others standing by to start shouting at the first person, “You’re only in 6 feet! Be thankful you’re not 10 feet deep!”
The answer would be that it is 0% helpful. It doesn’t matter how deep that water is. Both people are still drowning.
When people try to take away from someone else’s pain and recovery, they are doing a disservice to both parties. When they downplay what another person is going through, they are allowing themselves to push out empathy. Maybe no one can fully understand what that person is feeling, but being empathetic can help us to show compassion to them anyways. After all, showing someone a little bit of compassion may be the little push they need so they can take the next step in their recovery.
Remember that every single one of us will feel pain differently. The way we handle it will come in many different forms, some seemingly more healthy than others. Think about the patience and understanding you would want someone to show you on your worst days, and then give that back to the people in your life who might be drowning under the surface. You never know how you might affect someone’s life just by listening without judgement.
Also remember that your pain is valid. Your feelings are valid. Your method of recovery is your own, and no one can tell you that they would have handled it better than you did. If they just simply can’t understand, that’s okay. Rest assured that most of us out here are just trying to do the best we can, no matter what that looks like.